Tech Support Memo
Samples & Use
From Kevin Peterson, Technical Support Agent for PlasmaCAM, Inc. 5/31/00
Dear Future Customer:
If you're thinking about getting into mechanized cutting, let me tell you some inside secrets.
I know all about PlasmaCAM - because I currently do all the technical support for their machines. I also know about other CNC machines because I've spent the last 17 years of my life working with them.
Long ago I learned to program NC machines with a teletype and punch tape. (While I was programming, I would sometimes have to take breaks so telegrams could arrive from Europe and Africa.) When we got a flex-writer that could copy parts of tapes onto another tape, I thought I was in heaven. I could make changes to programs, but I still had to draw out every move on paper before punching the tape. It took a lot of math and practice pieces (scrap) to make parts in those days.
You're probably thinking that CNC machines are easier to use today - and you're right. But let me tell you, PlasmaCAM's unique system is so much better that it makes all other NC/CNC methods look the same!
You would be amazed to find out how inexpensive and easy to use and maintain the PlasmaCAM system is compared to other CNC machines out there.
You old hands know what I'm talking about, but what about the others? Might some shoppers even think that other CNC machines are as straightforward to use as PlasmaCAM?
Man, I get sore just thinking about it. Lots of people who have never used CNC machines before are buying PlasmaCAM systems and turning profits in a hurry. They have no idea how much grief they're avoiding - grief the rest of us have had to endure because of other equipment. Pardon my bitterness here, but the bad memories just make me shudder. I just want to set the record straight.
One of my recent experiences tells the truth about CNC. I was running a state-of-the- art 2-axis C02 laser at a sheet metal shop. We used several of the best software packages together, which worked okay for programming mechanical-type parts. But the art was a nightmare! One customer came in with art scenes he wanted cut, and we turned him away because our computer didn't have any way to read his hand drawings. To our surprise, he returned a week later with the same drawings on disk in CAD format. I was known as the fastest guy in the shop, but it literally took me days to clean up and convert the drawings to cut paths so I could load them into the laser. Talk about losing money before I even got started!
The only way I could find program errors in a part was to export the drawing from the CAD program to the CAM program, convert it to cut paths, and then wait for the screen to plot and find the errors. It took hours! (hours = dollars, ka-ching!). The software wouldn't offset the cut paths because they contained arcs smaller than the kerf width of the laser, so I had to settle for a distorted shape. I had to remove every last defect from the drawing, until finally I had a flawless program. Then I would download the program to the laser only to find that it was too big to fit into the memory. Finally, after breaking the program into two or three pieces I was able to get the part to post.
I repeated this process many, many times until I had a part program that I could use for production (whew!). Later on - if I wanted to make even the slightest change to cut order, starting point, or tab size - I would have to repeat the whole process again and send the program out.
We stood over the machine constantly while it ran and tried to snatch any pieces that threatened to hang it up. If the cut was ever interrupted, I couldn't just re-cut an area. I had to restart the program from the beginning with the laser switched off until it reached the point where it needed to resume cutting. If I missed that point, too bad; I had to start the program all over again. With programs taking more than an hour to cut, I stood there a long time with the machine not making money. Imagine the look on the boss's face! All this trouble was from a machine/software combination that cost about $˝ million.
The PlasmaCAM system is by far the easiest means I have ever used for 2-D shape cutting.
What used to take me hours or even days with other systems I can now do in five minutes. I don't have to "program" the PlasmaCAM system or try to imagine what a part is going to look like, I just tell it to cut the image I see on the screen. And I always get the part I expect, without delays.
I don't have to use multiple software packages because the PlasmaCAM software does everything I need. One simple function turns a complex drawing into a part that can be cut, complete with pierce point lead-ins and kerf correction. I can clean up and smooth messy drawings automatically. I can use "undo" to take back several operations if I make a mistake or change my mind. Nothing takes longer than it needs to. This system is interactive and flexible, and can even be used to program other 2-axis equipment. Talk about convenience!
If you have bad memories of other CNC equipment, you can forget them now. PlasmaCAM makes manufacturing a snap; the future is now.
If I've convinced you that there's a big difference between PlasmaCAM and other CNC machines when it comes to software and programming, just wait until you hear about the difference in maintenance cost!
(Keep in mind that this is coming from a guy who can repair his way out of just about any problem.)
I used to work at a shop that profiled and drilled sheet metal and machined parts with lasers that cost between $500,000 to $800,000 a piece. Less than a week after I started working there I saw the first field service tech come in. He drove 120 miles just to say that he would need to order parts and that we should call him when they came in. Ka-ching, that cost us a service call and travel time. During the next two years, we had tech guys out at least 15 times and spent countless hours working on the machines ourselves. Sometimes a machine would go down for as much as two months before they could get it running again.
Conventional CNC machines are so complicated that you can hardly do anything yourself. I used to look at the machines - just itching to wrench on them and get them running again - but there was no way to know where to start. Unfortunately many of the service guys didn't know either. We paid one guy to come out for two days, only to have him spend ten hours on our phone talking to the guys back at the main office. On the third day two more service guys flew out and finally got the machine running. When I asked them what they did to fix the problem, they said they had no idea. Did I think I would see them again? You bet! Ka-ching, more money please. Not just a little bit either.
When one of these guys flies out to work on your machine, you have to pay a flat fee for the service call. Plus you pay for his plane fare, hotel, rental car and an hourly fee. The average service call for us was $1000-$3000. To make matters worse, they were always ordering replacement parts from overseas and coming back to install them. The truth is, our machines broke down so much that we nearly hired one of the field service guys full-time. We needed help not only with the lasers, but also with the CNC mills, lathes, EDM's and water-jets that were always breaking down.
What really impresses me about the PlasmaCAM cutting table is the simplicity of the design.
You don't have to be a technician to operate and maintain it. The machine is dependable and if a problem ever does arise, you can usually diagnose and correct it yourself with the help of the manual. The manual is clear and comprehensive; we get compliments on it all the time.
Before I started working for PlasmaCAM, I borrowed the manual and software so I could learn a little more about the system. The software installed instantly without hassling me for secret codes, company info, etc. Within a few hours I had read the manual, learned how to use the software, and was ready to set up and use a machine. I went to the shop one night, and it took me less than three hours to unpack and set up a new machine. It went together perfectly, without help from anyone. I learned the system so fast that the day after I started the job I was taking technical support calls.
To this day, I still feel like the Maytag® repairman. We go several days without tech calls from anyone. Believe it or not, about half of our customers have not called even once for help. Those who do call usually need minor assistance like the changing of a setting. I address most calls simply by referring the callers to the appropriate sections in the manual.
Speaking of service and maintenance, let me tell you about parts cost. When I was running those lasers, the replacement parts were outrageously expensive. Whenever I asked a service guy how much a part was going to cost, he would snap at me saying, "I'm sure it's too much and I don't want to hear you complaining about it!" Whoa, talk about defensive.
No one wants to spend their profits keeping equipment running.
That's why PlasmaCAM provides a better-designed system. There's no need for field service agents, because any part of the machine can be easily removed and replaced. Replacement parts are inexpensive and readily available. In fact, all the replacement parts PlasmaCAM has ever sold add up to less cost than a part I had to order twice for the laser I used to run!
Over the years I've used lots of different brands and types of equipment. I have yet to see a company that cares as much as PlasmaCAM about making a reliable and affordable cutting system that is easy to set up, operate and maintain. As soon as I can get my garage cleared out, I'm going to buy one for myself and start using it at home. This machine is easy and fun to use, and it gives a high payback with little investment. Whether you are running production parts or just making artwork for the swap meet, PlasmaCAM is for you.
Let me close by just saying best wishes with your new PlasmaCAM machine, and don't forget how lucky you are to avoid all the problems I've had to go through with other equipment. I want to say, "talk to you soon," but I know that I probably won't - because chances are you won't need to call me for help. So have fun and make lots of money!
Technical Support Agent for PlasmaCAM, Inc.